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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Homelessness not sufficient reason for violence, disregard”

    My good friend Will and I were down at the tracks smashing pennies on St. Patrick’s day with a couple of Beamish stouts when a man sitting next to a railroad crate with his guitar waved us over. He confided to us bits and pieces of himself between renditions of Bob Dylan: that he had been hopping the trains for 40 years, that he was a Vietnam veteran, that he was an alcoholic and a former lawnsman.

    Neither of us had ever been accosted or regaled by a person of the street and, in spite of our open-mindedness, we could not help but feel a vibe of uneasiness, of which he was keenly sensitive to, saying, “”God gave me these two hands to lift people up and not to knock them down, you dig?””

    It was a powerful entreaty that humanized him and I did dig. What pervades our minds when it comes to homeless people is usually an image of conniving “”lowlives”” prone to violence, insanity, addiction and filthiness. While these qualities can apply to those who are homeless, they also exist hidden among the rest of us as well.

    Six months after receiving the man’s pacifying and monumentally wise chit of homeless proverb, I saw, with an irony that still stabs, four probable UA students, do something indiscriminate and violent to a man because he was homeless, because he was “”violent, insane, addicted and filthy”” himself, and because he has been depicted as human waste, as untermensch. Also, because he has been told by society that he does not personally merit compassion or assistance, or because he has been exploited by the likes of shockumentary “”Bumfights”” and scary children’s lore. Or maybe because psychologists have not yet stated or publicized a pathology that sees the disadvantaged as a channel of spontaneous hatred and violence – unselfconscious, broad-daylight violence without qualm, care or compunction as it was.

    I was driving back to work after delivering someone food, when I saw four men standing in a circle at the bus stop on Park and Speedway. One or two of the men were aiming cell phone cameras at a man lying in a heap at the center of their huddle. The ringleader was buckling with laughter and slapping his knee and the others were jeering at the man. Connecting the dots, I juggled for my phone to call the police. Next I saw a bottle break, and after the men had absconded along with every prospect of detainment, I walked up to the homeless man and noticed, much to my own nausea, that he had a fresh gash on his forehead with bits of glass in it. It was possible that they encouraged him to do it to himself or that they did it to him outright. I only saw the bottle break and the resulting gore. After fleshing out my situation to the Tucson Police Department, the cops arrived in force, but it was too late.

    The man was barely conscious, inebriated, bleeding and inertly slumping from side to side, his breath labored and rattling. During the assault itself, I noticed several people gambol by without so much as a glance. One person even stepped off the curb to avoid the spectacle and continued along.

    What was it that motivated inaction on the part of every spectator but myself? The act was blatant; there was no confusion as to what was happening.

    Imagine four homeless men descending on an unwary college student at a bus stop. They would be lynched. Imagine four neo-Nazi skinheads beating up a black person at a bus stop. Not on my watch, you say. But for some reason, the homeless population is so marginalized that it almost ceases to exist for many people. Many people look right past the homeless and do not care about the homeless; homelessness is perceived as a lifestyle choice or as a result of bad choices, whether from laziness or other character flaws.

    Homelessness is “”undignified”” and so the homeless have no dignity. This, to me, is the essential, specious logic that renders some spectators indifferent, or in the very least confused and trepidatious, when it comes to making the decision to punch 911 – which truly is only three numbers long- into a phone for another human being’s sake.

    The homeless are you and I, our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, lovers, and friends. Every human being in this world possesses an inalienable dignity; even the four perpetrators have their inalienable dignity.

    During my two years on this particular campus, I have thus far witnessed and reported three indiscriminate acts of insanity. If you multiply my sightings by even a small portion of the student population, you’ll have a statistic that begins to read: pay attention. If you see similar injustices being perpetrated anywhere, anytime, dial the phone. And if anyone has any information with regard to the incident I described, which happened next to the Jack in the Box on Park Avenue around Aug. 3, please call TPD at 520-791-4444 with any information you can provide.

    – Tim Workman is a Near Eastern Studies senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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